Gambling on the NFL can be a daunting and confusing experience if you are unfamiliar with the process. With UK sports it tends to be straight up betting with no ‘points’ or ‘spread’ so getting to grips with the US system is tricky unless you understand the terminology and the process behind it all. As with most things though, it’s easy when you know how! Here’s Liam O’Rourke to explain.
When a week’s line-up of games are announced, bookmakers will put out ‘lines’, a handicap of points depending on who is favoured. For example, let’s say the Cincinnati Bengals are the favourites over the New England Patriots, with the handicap being Bengals -1.5.
Translated, when the game is over, the winning team is then docked the pre-game handicap. In this case, the Bengals will be docked 1.5 points. If you bet on the Bengals, and when the handicap is docked they still have more points than the Patriots, then you win. The exact principle applies to the underdog – if you took Patriots +1.5, then you add the extra points, and if with that bonus they won the game, you win too. Simple so far, right?
Against the spread
You’ll often read the initials ‘ATS’ on websites discussing teams and how they are performing. This stands for ‘Against The Spread’, and refers to how teams are doing on these handicaps. If a team is good against the spread, it means they often cover the handicap as the bookies have them. To use the Bengals as a reference point again, they are currently 3-0 straight up (in wins and losses), as well as ATS.
Evaluating the lines
Now, for some simple tips in how to evaluate the lines. It is important right away to realise that it is very hard to win on the road in the NFL. As a result, road favourites are always a bigger gamble than the line may indicate. As a general rule, teams that are considered equals on a neutral field will have the team playing on the road at a -3 handicap. With this being the case, you can use that as a barometer to determine where teams stand when the lines come out.
3 and out, unlucky 7
The two most important numbers to be mindful for, obviously, are 3 and 7, as about 25 percent of games are decided by these numbers alone, and lines that fall right on the number are worth second-guessing. It is key when wagering to shop around, check out what lines are being offered, because you’ll find those valuable half-pointers (-2.5 and -6.5) that are worth the plunge.
Don’t be a sheep
If the public is reacting one way, it is usually a good judgment to head the opposite direction. The masses bet in a reactionary fashion, and currently the NFL doesn’t have too many consistently great or awful teams (with some obvious exceptions), which means there isn’t truly a great difference between an 8-8 team and a 6-10 team. Regression to the mean is your friend.
Lines will change, again based on the public’s reactions and where they put their money, another reason why it is good to shop around. Our case study of Bengals/Pats saw a similar move, with the Pats originally listed as the favourite, before the public money was so strong in the other direction after a bad Patriots loss the previous Monday night, that it shifted the line to favour the Bengals. This struck me as a key time to take the Pats for that reason, and that’s how it played out as New England not only beat the spread but won the game.
NEVER bet a double-digit favourite. Variance in the League is too high for it ever to be worth betting on.
Gauge and gut
Prepare for the reality that you will not win every time. You’re looking to land above .500, so gut feeling and gauging the landscape is more important that things like momentum and public opinion.